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“Bull Durham” is good because of (a) sex; and (b) the lack of “one big game”

Jun 25, 2013, 11:32 AM EDT

Image (1) bull-durham-baseball_l.jpg for post 4053

Bull Durham was released 25 years ago last week and there have been many retrospectives about it in the sporting and cinematic press recently. I know people’s mileage varies on this sort of thing, but I tend to agree with most of the assessments of the movie as the best baseball movie ever.

Ron Shelton, the film’s writer and director, gave this quote to The Atlantic and it’s probably the reason I like it the most:

“The fault I found with most baseball movies, with most sports movies, is that they were invariably about ‘The Big Game.’ Any professional athlete can tell you that he was never about winning The Big Game. There was always another game to play. Essentially, I tried to add two new ingredients to the baseball film: sex and the idea that life didn’t simply build up to one big game.”

Which is why I like baseball as a sport. Way fewer “big games” than there are in other sports. Which isn’t to say I don’t like big games when then happen. It’s mostly about not liking how we’re supposed to feel about that big game and how people write about that big game and how life is supposed to be put on hold for that big game. That mindset is the total opposite of why I like baseball. It’s a diversion and a stress-reducer for me. Always has been. Why spend so much time and effort crowding out the important things in your life and creating stress when it doesn’t have to be there? Sex is more important than baseball. Ten random baseball games are better than one important one.

“Bull Durham” is one of the few baseball movies which actually matches the tone of baseball as I choose to understand it and consume it: one in which baseball provides a nice backdrop to real life. Even other baseball movies I love like “Major League” have that all wrong. In terms of tone, “Major League” is a football movie, what with its band-of-misfits and one big game climax. It’s great because it’s hilarious, not because it captures something truthful and valuable about baseball.

  1. levistahl - Jun 25, 2013 at 11:36 AM

    Totally agree. And one of the many, many reasons I love The Bad News Bears as well is that, while there’s one big game, they lose it. Which, you know, is what happens a lot of the time.

    • dan1111 - Jun 25, 2013 at 11:41 AM

      I guess I don’t need to see that movie now…

      • cohnjusack - Jun 25, 2013 at 12:19 PM

        The movie is 37 years old.

        If a film gets spoiled for you a decade after it’s released, it’s no longer the fault of the person spoiling it for you.

        In other news, Jack *IS* Tyler Durden, Rosebud was his sled and it was Earth all along.

      • heyblueyoustink - Jun 25, 2013 at 12:34 PM

        Also, the meaning of life is “42”.

      • MyNameIsWilliamBillForShort - Jun 25, 2013 at 12:50 PM

        And the most important spoiler of all:

        Darth Vader: Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.
        Luke Skywalker: He told me enough! He told me you killed him!
        Darth Vader: No. I am your father.

      • Old Gator - Jun 25, 2013 at 1:14 PM

        And Soylent Green is guys who cleared waivers.

      • aceshigh11 - Jun 25, 2013 at 1:30 PM

        Hey…didja hear the Japs bombed Pearl Harbor??

        FDR says to gird for war!

        There…you’re caught up.

      • nbjays - Jun 25, 2013 at 1:42 PM

        “Also, the meaning of life is “42″.”

        Wow, Jackie Robinson changed things more than I thought…

      • nothanksimdriving123 - Jun 25, 2013 at 2:40 PM

        OK, funny, but if anyone tells me what happens on that big ship before I see Titanic, I’ll be really pissed. I haven’t seen JFK yet either, so…

    • petey1999 - Jun 25, 2013 at 11:48 AM

      How can you not love a game where you can be considered a great player and still fail 70% of the time? And no matter how badly you do today, you can be a hero tomorrow. Like life.

      • cubanxsenators - Jun 25, 2013 at 12:42 PM

        We’re talking about sex, right?

  2. 161andriver - Jun 25, 2013 at 11:40 AM

    Apparently you haven’t seen The Scout. When Brendan Fraser comes from the roof of Yankee Stadium to make his major league debut during the World Series and simultaneously pitches a perfect game, and belts home runs, I think “Wow. Nailed it.”

    • Francisco (FC) - Jun 25, 2013 at 12:12 PM

      Hmm…a film universe where Yankee’s pitchers have to bat and belt home runs has to be good right? This must one of those universes where the dreaded DH never happened. And never mind active roster restrictions. MLB Debut at the WS!

    • cohnjusack - Jun 25, 2013 at 12:21 PM

      …not Albert Brooks’ finest moment.

      You know what, that’s and understatement.

      …Albert Brooks’ worst moment.

      • unclemosesgreen - Jun 26, 2013 at 6:31 AM

        If Albert Brooks has ever had a worse hour and a half, he did it in private. Brendan Fraser, however, was just doing what Brendan Fraser does. The guy makes Keanu Reeves look like DeNiro.

      • unclemosesgreen - Jun 26, 2013 at 6:38 AM

        Cohn Jusack was in a not-so-good baseball movie himself, but for the record I’ve never seen Cohn or Coan Jusack be that bad in any movie.

  3. philliesblow - Jun 25, 2013 at 11:41 AM

    The thing I love about Bull Durham is all the classic cliches.

    Some days you win, some days you lose, some days it rains.

    I’m just happy to be here, hope I can help the organization.

    And then there’s this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sBfdl6hNZ9k

  4. alamosweet - Jun 25, 2013 at 11:43 AM

    Agreed on every count. I wasn’t allowed to watch Bull Durham when I was a kid due to all of the sex. That aura of the forbidden and grown-up has added a certain allure that exists to this day. Few other baseball movies have that.

  5. jeffa43 - Jun 25, 2013 at 11:50 AM

    Skip: You guys. You lollygag the ball around the infield. You lollygag your way down to first. You lollygag in and out of the dugout. You know what that makes you? Larry!
    Larry: Lollygaggers!
    Skip: Lollygaggers.

  6. micknangold - Jun 25, 2013 at 11:52 AM

    It’s about minor league baseball. What big game could it possibly have been about?

  7. Joe - Jun 25, 2013 at 11:54 AM

    This is the same reason Ball Four is such a great book.

    • Roger Moore - Jun 25, 2013 at 12:05 PM

      If you like Ball Four, you should read Jim Brosnan’s The Long Season. It’s the same basic idea, but written a decade before, and by somebody who was actually as smart and as good a writer as Bouton thought he was.

      • abaird2012 - Jun 25, 2013 at 2:25 PM

        Read ‘em both (along with Brosnan’s follow-up, Pennant Race) — didn’t like Brosnan’s smarmy Madison Avenue martini-swilling lounge-lizard act. Would’ve made a great Madmen script, though.

        Bouton is the far more genuine voice and thus, to my mind, the superior writer.

      • deepflakes - Jun 25, 2013 at 4:00 PM

        Agreed — Ball Four is the best baseballl book ever — I read it in high school and have re-read it several times. I was fortunate to get a copy signed a few years ago when it republished in hardback in the original cover.

  8. goawaydog - Jun 25, 2013 at 11:56 AM

    Ditto Sandlot.

  9. creek0512 - Jun 25, 2013 at 11:56 AM

    Bull Durham, like all great comedies, is great because there are so many lines you can quote from it.

  10. indaburg - Jun 25, 2013 at 11:59 AM

    If I could take one movie with me on a deserted island, it would be this one. Recently, I was pretty sick. What did I watch while I coughed up my lung? My visual chicken soup, this movie. It’s funny, it’s life, it’s sexy, it’s a little sad, and there’s baseball. I can recite lines and scenes from memory. And yeah, no big game. Just a series of small moments.

    • indaburg - Jun 25, 2013 at 12:07 PM

      Another interesting thing about Bull Durham. It was told from a woman’s perspective. While I have no desire to be a baseball groupie and never have (contrary to my libidinous ways may suggest), I understand Annie’s appreciation of the game on multiple levels. Bull Durham is unique in having a woman’s voice, especially since it was written by a man, Ron Shelton, a man with an in depth knowledge of both the ways of baseball and women.

  11. stex52 - Jun 25, 2013 at 12:07 PM

    Just what I like about a baseball season. Baseball is not a week of building up to the game. It’s something going on every night. It is a rhythm that fits into your life. For six months, it’s always there. When it’s gone in the fall, you miss it.

    • indaburg - Jun 25, 2013 at 12:09 PM

      I don’t just miss it, stex. I crave it like a long lost love. I’m lost in the wilderness during the off season.

      • stex52 - Jun 25, 2013 at 12:15 PM

        Ditto.

      • hep3 - Jun 25, 2013 at 1:46 PM

        The greatest title of a book, not necessarily the greatest book, is Thomas Boswell’s

        “Why Time Begins on Opening Day”

      • nothanksimdriving123 - Jun 25, 2013 at 2:54 PM

        india, that is precisely why Ra the Sun God gave us hockey. Baseball to soothe us through the hot summer, hockey to excite us through the cold winter. Yin and yang. It’s why Canadians are generally happier than Americans. Well, plus fewer gun crimes, universal health coverage and Aero bars.

      • indaburg - Jun 25, 2013 at 4:25 PM

        In January, in desperation, I will watch hockey. I am fluent in baseball, conversant in hockey.

        Back in January 2011, I turned to the Lightning on a particularly desparate night. My dad, from a tropical island, looked at the tv and scoffed in his Dominican accent. “Hockey, Hannah? Why are you watching that? It is so easy.” I nearly choked. “Easy?! You can say you don’t like it because it’s too violent or you just don’t find it interesting but out of all the team sports, it is the hardest. It is NOT easy.” He said reasonably, “They’re on ice. They can glide and use momentum. They are figure skating with a stick.” I replied firmly. “I’m taking you to see hockey live in person. If you still don’t like it, fair enough. But you have to see it in person before you judge.” I took him to see the Panthers play the Lightning. 3 rows from the ice. During the warm-ups, he was bouncing in his seats like a kid. He was so amped just watching them skate. During intermission, I told him how Lecavalier had donated $2 million of his own money to build All Children’s Hospital cancer wing. How St. Louis was a little guy, but with talent and a heart the size of his home country. How Roloson was older than dirt and still stopping pucks. I told him their stories. Second intermission, he bought a Lecavalier jersey. He was hooked. Dad introduced me to baseball and I repaid him with hockey. I got the better end, but still. He passed about 6 months later but during that time, there was no bigger hockey fan. Good sport you guys have. But it’s just not baseball.

      • cur68 - Jun 25, 2013 at 4:03 PM

        @nothanks: you forgot: money that’s worth something, not being blamed for aggressive foreign policy the world over, apologizing when its not even our fault, spelling words like “colour”, ‘flavour”, and “cheque” correctly, best beer on the planet, a climate that makes you appreciate wherever it is your from a whole lot more, and generally acting in a dignified and responsible manner.

        Also, we have the best maple syrup in the world.

      • indaburg - Jun 25, 2013 at 4:55 PM

        Has anyone mentioned universal healthcare yet? Yeah. That.

        You still need us for our beaches. And admit it, you love our brash shamelessness. It has its charm.

      • lukescottsbedsidemanner - Jun 25, 2013 at 5:00 PM

        Huh! That guy looks like a smarmy git. Stop being all brash and shameless with him. Save it for me. I have pork. I got lots of pork. Fresh pork.

      • indaburg - Jun 25, 2013 at 5:21 PM

        LMAO

        You made me spit my drink up with that gravatar. Very holy. Yeah, I bet you don’t like the tan boys.

      • lukescottsbedsidemanner - Jun 25, 2013 at 5:21 PM

        So we’re a go with the pork, then?

      • indaburg - Jun 25, 2013 at 6:42 PM

        That’s a definite emphatic no, you birther pig spear hunting freak.

      • lukescottsbedsidemanner - Jun 25, 2013 at 7:01 PM

        I bet you’d like me if I was a slimy fish like that one you’re slobbering all over there in your picture.

        I think, I’ll go fishing . . .

      • indaburg - Jun 25, 2013 at 7:04 PM

        Who says I am slobbering? I am very dignified in my lust.

  12. stex52 - Jun 25, 2013 at 12:08 PM

    Oh yeah, and the sex part.

  13. Francisco (FC) - Jun 25, 2013 at 12:18 PM

    I’m reminded of Fever Pitch. Originally that film was supposed to end with the Sox losing yet another playoff series in their eternal quest to end the World Series drought (and I presume this should have led to some thoughtful reflection on the part of the main character about his baseball life and personal life).

    However, actual events overran the ending…

    • indaburg - Jun 25, 2013 at 12:27 PM

      Fever Pitch.

      I liked the BoSox better before they won the big game. I probably would’ve liked this movie more without it too. (And I don’t mind Fallon. I think he can sometimes be funny.)

      • APBA Guy - Jun 25, 2013 at 2:38 PM

        Well, you know Inda, the book Fever Pitch was about Arsenal in the English professional soccer league, and as a book, I liked it substantially better than the US movie version. Mainly because, like you, the baseball offseason was a time of suffering, longing, and temptations sometimes too strong to resist. Into that void came the EPL, which has as much subtlety, thought, drama, ebb and flow, ego and money as the MLB. And best of all, entirely fills the off season! There are a few commenters here who like the EPL as a secondary sport to baseball.

        Not OG of course. For someone so wise, he is blind to the beautiful game.

        But ignore him for once. Check it out next fall.

  14. DelawarePhilliesFan - Jun 25, 2013 at 12:19 PM

    To me, the brilliance of the movie is captured in the two scenes in which Crash Davis tells the batter what pitch Nuke LaLouche is about to throw – after Nuke had shook off what Crash wanted him to throw (which, if I am not mistaken, was what was happening in the picture above). The first time Nuke is speechless and doesn’t know what to say or do. The 2nd time – he still doesn’t get why Crash did it, but he knows it happened. And he knows not to bother asking why. Which sort of was the whole point – don’t shake off the pitches, just throw. When you think, bad things happen. When you don’t think, you are on fire. Don’t shake off pitches – just throw!

    The movie showed how those important lessons are learned over time. Rather than cram the factoid down your throat in a 5 second montage, it was subtle, and over the course of the movie.

  15. mgv38 - Jun 25, 2013 at 12:22 PM

    AGREE. A baseball game is great to get completely engrossed in, but it’s also nice just to have on in the background of life. Nice to have it on when you are grilling, playing with the kids, working from home, or whatever. It is our salve. And it lasts.

  16. mgv38 - Jun 25, 2013 at 12:23 PM

    Lady Kenmores. Brutal.

  17. jk55299 - Jun 25, 2013 at 12:28 PM

    I really liked For the Love of the Game. I liked it because the guy was a superstar and not a Rocky type character. Granted he was over the hill but I am tired of the scrappy nobody stories. I don’t watch real baseball to see a utility inf get a big hit.

    • psousa1 - Jun 25, 2013 at 12:37 PM

      Very underrated movie. Just love the premise – pitching the game of his life and simultaneously looking back on his life to that point.

      • abaird2012 - Jun 25, 2013 at 2:28 PM

        Pretty sappy.

  18. andycher - Jun 25, 2013 at 12:28 PM

    don’t think, meat

    applies to many situations

    A

  19. Ben - Jun 25, 2013 at 12:39 PM

    I LOVE Bull Durham, but one thing that always bugged me about it is the idea that a good defensive catcher (at least one who can handle a pitching staff) with some pop (sets career minor league HR record) can’t get a job as at least a backup catcher in the majors. And then they release him after Nuke gets called up? Rather than having him work with other prospects? What point does it serve? And wouldn’t he catch on, if he wanted to anyway? That seems to me to be more about the requirements of the narrative than any baseball reality. Small quibble.

    • DelawarePhilliesFan - Jun 25, 2013 at 1:24 PM

      I agree – I too have always thought that as well. I guess they could explain it as whatever happened during his 21 day call up convinced teams he could not play at the major league level. But yes, seems odd he never caught on anywhere

    • bigharold - Jun 25, 2013 at 2:20 PM

      “…release him after Nuke gets called up? Rather than having him work with other prospects? What point does it serve? ”

      The plot??? ATTENTION ATTENTION: Bull Durham WAS NOT, I repeat, WAS NOT a baseball movie.

      Everybody here is laboring under the misconception that Bull Durham was a baseball movie, .. it wasn’t. It was a love story that used baseball as a background. Boy meets girl, … boy is smitten, .. falls in love, .. conflict … and in the end boy gets girl. Which frankly also torpedoes the notion that there was no “big one”. Sure there was no big game, .. but the big one in essence was the hero, Crash Davis, get the girl at the end. Like ALL love stories. This is “When Harry Met Sally” with jock straps and chewing tobacco.

      I loved the movie, watch it just about every time I run into it on TV but this is a baseball movie like the TV show “The Big Bang Theory” is a story about physics.

      • bigharold - Jun 25, 2013 at 2:23 PM

        And, for the record, the best baseball movie was “Bang the Drum Slowly”

      • DelawarePhilliesFan - Jun 25, 2013 at 5:40 PM

        Fair enough – but surely you would concede that for any movie to work, the framework must make sense. The movie could not be about an adult baseball league (for instance) or people would say “Don’t these guys have jobs? And why would a team like this have groupies?”

        It may be a love story – but the back drop still must make sense. Which is not to suggest that the whole “why is he in the minors thing?” kills the suspension of disbelief. But I can see people picking up on that point and saying, “huh?”. Especially considering how much attention to detail they did in other baseball related areas

      • bigharold - Jun 25, 2013 at 6:15 PM

        “Fair enough – but surely you would concede that for any movie to work, the framework must make sense. ”

        Absolutely. It’s a great movie, in part, thanks to the authenticity of the baseball background. But, it’s essentially a date movie and it uses baseball to hook guys and real them in. And, even knowing that I watch it regularly.

    • indaburg - Jun 25, 2013 at 2:39 PM

      You know what bugged me too? That Annie didn’t immediately kick Nuke out after Crash’s “I believe” speech. I woulda kicked Nuke’s dumb ass out right then and there. Actually, his dumb ass would have never made it through the front door.

  20. MyNameIsWilliamBillForShort - Jun 25, 2013 at 12:44 PM

    “Sex is more important than baseball. ”
    Truer words were never written.

    “Ten random baseball games are better than one important one.”
    Dumber words were never written.

    Sorry, that was just my gut reaction to both of those lines you wrote. To think that 10 random games during the regular season is better than ANY playoff game is absoutely ludicrous. I have never really gotten the juices flowing for a game in mid-July as much as I have sometimes PLANNED MY WHOLE SCHEDULE A MONTH IN ADVANCE for a playoff game. I see what you were getting at, but I just could not disagree more completely.

    • Old Gator - Jun 25, 2013 at 1:18 PM

      “Duty is more important than shrimp.”
      – Johann Hoffmann in Liquid Sky

      • Jonny 5 - Jun 25, 2013 at 3:32 PM

        Hey Gator, At your age wouldn’t you amend this to say “Doodies are more important than shrimp.”?

      • Old Gator - Jun 25, 2013 at 5:01 PM

        No need. Got fiber.

  21. valarmorghuliss - Jun 25, 2013 at 1:24 PM

    Other actors who were considered for Crash Davis included Harrison Ford, Kurt Russell, and Mel Gibson. Costner said yes first.

    For the Nuke LaLoosh character, the first choice was Charlie Sheen. But he’d just signed on to be in another baseball movie, Eight Men Out.

    In addition to wanting Sheen to play Nuke LaLoosh, the studio was also keen on Anthony Michael Hall. But when director Ron Shelton and producer Mark Burg went to New York to meet with the actor, he not only showed up a half hour late, but hadn’t even read the script. “I thought Ron was going to shoot him,” says Burg. When Hall came back the following day, he said that he’d only read half of the script. When he heard that, Shelton had had enough. He got up and walked out.

    As for Sarandon’s baseball groupie Annie Savoy, both Kim Basinger and Ellen Barkin passed first.

    Annnnnnd

    A young choreographer named Paula Abdul was flown down to the Durham, North Carolina, set to teach Robbins some flashy moves for a scene where he dances at a bar. When she was done, she approached the director, Ron Shelton, and asked him what part he had for her in the film — she claimed she had been told by one of the producers that if she taught Robbins some moves, she be rewarded with a speaking part. Shelton apologized, but informed her there was no part. “She marched off screaming,” says Shelton.

    And now you know the rest of the story

    • DelawarePhilliesFan - Jun 25, 2013 at 1:30 PM

      I could defintely see circa 1987 Kurt Russell as Crash, the other two….no way! Anthony Michael Hall….yea, they shoeld be glad he dissed them. Saved them from a huge mistake! Kim Bassinger would have been good as Annie.

      All in all, they nailed it with the cast they took. And Trey Wilson as the manager? Oh hell, they may as well have left out that role if it was anyone but him!

      • valarmorghuliss - Jun 25, 2013 at 1:35 PM

        Funny how things work out for the best. Just think, Tom Cruise turned down the part for Andy Dufresne in Shawshank.

      • DelawarePhilliesFan - Jun 25, 2013 at 1:39 PM

        And John Travolta turned down playing Mayo in Officer and a Gentleman

    • Old Gator - Jun 25, 2013 at 1:58 PM

      Too bad. I would love to have watched Tim Robbins banging Paula Abdul against the inside of his clubhouse locker.

      • Francisco (FC) - Jun 25, 2013 at 2:33 PM

        That’s one hell of a speaking part!

      • Old Gator - Jun 25, 2013 at 5:02 PM

        Well, it’s a moaning part. Ever heard her sing?

    • dexterismyhero - Jun 26, 2013 at 10:09 AM

      Thanks Paul Harvey!!!

  22. wpjohnson - Jun 25, 2013 at 1:25 PM

    When a baseball movie must depend on sex to dray an audience, it is obvious that the movie is poor. Bull Durham is poor.

    Baseball, to the true baseball fan, needs no sex.

    • valarmorghuliss - Jun 25, 2013 at 1:39 PM

      Listen Jebediah, you keep that Quaker jive talk to yourself

    • nbjays - Jun 25, 2013 at 1:47 PM

      A baseball movie is good, but a baseball movie with sex (and Susan Sarandon) is better.

    • chromedog - Jun 25, 2013 at 3:15 PM

      and this comment from one with johnson in there name,…

    • dexterismyhero - Jun 26, 2013 at 10:15 AM

      So you play women’s fast pitrch?

  23. hojo20 - Jun 25, 2013 at 1:43 PM

    I wish the Sandlot had sex in it.

    • hep3 - Jun 25, 2013 at 1:49 PM

      How about the kissing scene at the pool when the kid faked drowning?

      • hojo20 - Jun 25, 2013 at 6:53 PM

        No, i want to see breasts.

  24. rkjohn9999 - Jun 25, 2013 at 2:59 PM

    Bull Durham and The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings are my favorite baseball movies.

  25. padraighansen - Jun 25, 2013 at 3:34 PM

    All of the guys I played with in college – 4 of us lived together for 3 years – we watched Bull Durham religiously (addictively) and we can probably still quote 90% of the movie verbatim. To me, it’s the best baseball flick, ever – because it highlights, very well, the almost “abusive” relationship between the unconditional love of the game for the player against the unforgiving nature of the game. Most of us, like Ron Shelton (and Crash Davis) do not get to decide when we’re done playing…the game has a way of dictating that for us.

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